1991 might have been the year that punk broke (according to Sonic Youth, at least) but 1992 was the year that it took its place at the forefront of pop culture. Suddenly, music that had once been considered too difficult or dark for radio was dominating the airwaves. It was the year that Nirvana’s Nevermind shot to number 1 on the Billboard charts, and the year that then relative unknown Tori Amos dropped her debut album, Little Earthquakes.
Just like Nirvana’s magnum opus, Little Earthquakes was an instantly accessible, yet dark and complex record; an exploration of modern womanhood, violence and hope that immediately connected with a huge audience. It was a commercial and critical success; an album with a legacy so enduring that it has now been re-released in a deluxe edition, pairing up the album’s original twelve tracks along with eighteen other choice cuts.
With Little Earthquakes Amos proved that pop didn’t have to be saccharine, or one note. The record was proof that you could do whatever you wanted with music – the sky was the limit. If you wanted to release an acapella single like Me and A Gun, a song that detailed in no uncertain terms your assault and rape, you could.
Indeed, darkness and honesty became not only a choice, but a necessity. Pop of the early nineties was defined by its unflinching honesty, and Little Earthquakes is no exception to this rule. Every track of the album, from the beautiful, determined strangeness of album opener Crucify, to the intense, personal feel of the spellbinding Winter overflows with an unwavering commitment to emotional truths. Amos never backs down from her subject matter; she never shies away when the going gets tough, or the emotional intensity of tracks like Silent All These Years threatens to reach boiling point.
The eighteen additional tracks on this reissue are well chosen, and further provide evidence of Amos’ control over her material. Her piano-led, heartbreaking cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit is a definite highlight, but intense live versions of Crucify, Little Earthquakes and Precious Things impress too.
Time has been very kind to Little Earthquakes. The album feels as fresh and exhilarating now as it did in 92. It’s an intelligent, powerful listen, and a milestone of sorts, definitive proof that pop can and should be difficult, and demented and delirious.